March is named for Mars, one of the few months to be named after a deity, and on the old Roman calendar it was the first month of the year. A festival to Mars, the Feriae Marti, started on the old New Year's Day (March 1) and continued to March 24, and possibly to the end of the month.

Mars was an ancient Italian deity who was identified by the Romans with the Greek Ares and worshipped as the god of war. (The name of the god in the Sabine and Oscan tongues was Mamers, and Mars itself is a contraction of Mavers or Mavors.) Whatever his origins, Mars was much more than a god of war. He was regarded as the protector of land and crops and the father of Romulus, the founder of the nation. Next to Jupiter, he enjoyed the highest honors in Rome.

The festival of Anna Perenna (March 15) honored the Roman personification of the year and was celebrated at the first full moon of the new year, which was in March on the old Roman calendar. The Liberalia (March 17) honored Liber Pater and his female counterpart Libera. The Quinquatrus (March 19) was so named because it was the fifth day (by the Roman method of inclusive counting) after the Ides of March. It came to be regarded as the start of a five-day festival, the Greater Quinquatrus, which honored Minerva. The month of March was the traditional start of the campaign season, and the Tubilustrium (March 23) was a ceremony to make the army fit for war. It was held on the last day of the Greater Quinquatrus and again on May 23. The sacred trumpets (tubae) were originally war trumpets, but later they were used for ceremonial occasions. It is not clear if the army was involved, or if it was merely a ceremony to purify the trumpets used in summoning the assembly on the following day. The ceremony was held in Rome in a building called the Hall of the Shoemakers (atrium sutorium) and involved the sacrifice of a ewe lamb. Romans who did not attend the ceremony would be reminded of the occasion by seeing the Salii dancing through the streets of the city.

Here is some additional information about various Roman holidays in March.

  • An article in Wikipedia about the Matronalia (March 1) provides details.
  • An article in Wikipedia provides details about the Quinquartia.
  • An entry from Smith's dictionary explains the origin and customs of the Matronalia.
  • Another entry from Smith's dictionary describes the Equiria and the Campus Martius.
  • An entry from Smith's dictionary relates that the Quinquatrus honored Minerva.
  • A succinct summary of most Roman holidays throughout the year is given here.
  • A calendar for The Roman Month of Martius shows various festivals and other notable dates, like the Hilaria (March 25) and the death of Julius Caesar (March 15).

    photo courtesy of VRoma

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